US President Donald Trump has attacked the government agency that oversees the safety of coronavirus vaccine development, claiming that members of the “deep state” at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were intentionally slowing progress so a vaccine would not be available until after the November election.
In a Twitter post, Trump said the deep state “or whoever” at the FDA was making it very difficult for drug companies to enrol people in clinical trials to test vaccines and therapies for the novel coronavirus. There is no public evidence to support the accusation and the president did not provide any.
Trump has in the past used the term “deep state” to refer to long-serving government staff who, in the president’s eyes, are determined to undermine his agenda.
The comment came after Reuters news agency reported on Thursday that a top FDA official said he would resign if the Trump administration approved a vaccine before it was shown to be safe and effective.
“Obviously, they are hoping to delay the answer until after November 3rd. Must focus on speed, and saving lives!” Trump wrote, tagging FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn in the tweet.
The accusation elicited a quick rebuke from top House Democratic Nancy Pelosi, who called the statement “dangerous” and “beyond the pale”.
With the coronavirus dominating the 2020 campaign, scientists, public health officials and legislators are worried that the Trump administration will push the FDA to approve a vaccine in advance of the vote, even if data from clinical trials do not support its widespread use.
Peter Marks, the director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said last week on a conference call with government officials, pharmaceutical executives and academics that he would resign if the agency rubber-stamped an unproven vaccine, according to Reuters.
Marks, whose division regulates cutting-edge biotech treatments, vaccines and gene therapies, told Reuters he has not faced any political pressure and that the FDA would be guided by science alone.
Should that change, he told the news agency on Thursday, “I would feel obligated (to resign) because in doing so, I would indicate to the American public that there’s something wrong.”
The coronavirus has to date killed more than 176,000 people in the US and infected at least 5.6 million. In terms of case and death numbers, the US is the hardest-hit country in the world.
Several of the world’s most promising vaccines are being developed by the US, and the White House, through its operation “Warp Speed”, aims to produce 300 million vaccine doses, with the first batch available by January 21.
The government has poured billions of dollars into private companies judged to have the best shot at developing a successful vaccine. The plan also involves scaling up manufacturing of candidates deemed the most likely to succeed even before the vaccines have proven effective and safe for widespread use.